Lela Garcia, an Honors student majoring in law and minoring in philosophy and Spanish, is co-president of the SBS Ambassadors, a recruitment intern for the college, and a member of SBS’s Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Committee. Lela also recently coordinated the college’s JEDI Summer Leadership Academy on mass incarceration, with the acronym JEDI standing for justice, equity, diversity, and inclusion.
In this Q&A, Garcia reflects on why she decided to major in law (which is a collaboration between the School of Government and Public Policy and the James E. Rogers College of Law), why she’s involved with SBS and diversity, equity, and inclusion efforts, and what advice she has for new Wildcats!
Q. Why did you decide to major in law?
I've wanted to pursue a career in law since I can remember. I'm a big people person and I love helping others, and I feel like a career in law fits naturally with that. My interest in the legal field also piqued due to a personal experience in family law when I was younger.
When I applied to the UA, I saw that they had a law major and an accelerated 3+3 BA/JD program, the first of its kind in the nation, and I was like ‘wow, this sounds amazing.’ Throughout my time as a law major, I’ve had hands-on legal experience participating in clinics and internships, completed classes specifically designed to test your legal competencies and think like a lawyer, and honed in on skills necessary for me to excel in law school. Choosing this law major has been the best decision, and I knew this would be a great way to get a head start.
Q. What has your experience as an SBS student been like?
I think I could talk for hours about how much I love SBS. To be completely honest, I consider all the people that I've met at SBS to be a second family. It’s insane how supportive of a community I have found within SBS, not only with the students and the ambassadors, but also with the faculty.
SBS’s interdisciplinary approach to learning has also been a key highlight throughout my time here. The transferable skills that I have acquired through my classes, clubs, and internship opportunities have provided a solid foundation for me to excel in my career post-graduation.
Plus, I was born and raised in Tucson, and the UA has always been the university that I wanted to attend. I don't regret it one day. I am in love with the University of Arizona.
Q. Why did you get involved with the SBS Ambassador Program?
I wasn't aware of the SBS Ambassador Program until the second semester of my freshman year. During an SBS class about navigating college and career readiness, a guest speaker brought three SBS Ambassadors and they shared so many of their amazing experiences with SBS, Study Abroad, research, and clubs. I thought being an Ambassador would broaden my horizons and bring new opportunities to my student experience. I also wanted to find a community of like-minded individuals that would support one another while navigating college. When applying to be an Ambassador, I never imagined that it would allow me to become so extensively involved in the ways that I am today. I definitely credit the Ambassador Program for furthering my academic career. The support that I found there is amazing and I am so lucky to call SBS my home.
Q. Tell us about your involvement with other extracurricular activities as well as research.
I'm a recruitment intern for the college and a member of SBS’s Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Committee. With my recruitment internship, I hold weekly information sessions for prospective students and families, and I participate in events all across campus, like the Arizona Experience or Office Hours with Noam Chomsky. It’s really amazing to be the person that could potentially change the course of a prospective student’s admission process and ultimately be the reason why they decide to come to UArizona and SBS!
My freshman year, I was involved in the Honors College first-year research project. I had done research about sex trafficking the summer prior to my freshman year and won an award for it, so I wanted to dive deeper into that topic. I looked at the efficacy of Arizona State law in regards to sex trafficking of minors – so, how well Arizona State law prosecuted traffickers, how well it protected victims, and also the resources that our community provided. It was such a great experience as I got to collaborate with non-profit directors, Tucson Police Department detectives, and experts on the topic at the UA.
For my Honors thesis, I decided to delve into how the American common law system recognizes intimate relationships that are non-marital, specifically in terms of asset divisions. My thesis topic is heavily influenced by the work I did in the B.A. in Law Family and Juvenile Clinic last semester, working with self-represented divorce litigants.
Q. How and why did you get involved in the JEDI Leadership Academy and other diversity, equity, and inclusion efforts on campus?
I saw a post the other day on social media, and it really stuck with me. The post said that ignorance is bliss. And it really frustrated me because especially with DEI work, I don't think this saying could be any less true. Because at some point in one's life, I think it's really important to take the initiative and learn about the injustices that are impacting your community. Because if not, you are unknowingly upholding these inequalities.
With the Jedi Leadership Academy, we're bringing awareness to social justice initiatives, both on and off campus, and helping students understand their place in them, while also giving them the tools and strategies to speak up for change.
I’ve learned that when it comes to Justice, it is entirely up to you to take it by the reins and implement change. There won’t be any change by sitting around and waiting for it to come. I definitely consider myself to be one who takes initiative and speaks her mind, and, quite frankly, I was tired of hearing about the importance of DEI without any actions behind those words. So, I feel that being a part of the DEI committee at SBS has truly bridged the gap between students’ needs and voices and having them materialized not only at SBS, but throughout campus. I’m just grateful that I was given the opportunity to advocate for my community and provide a platform for my peers’ voices.
I'm also working on revising all in-state universities' student code of conduct to incorporate racial justice principles, as well as language regulating hate speech on campus. With a smaller pilot version of this project, I'm hoping that we can get all Greek Life associations on campus to voluntarily commit themselves to a Greek Life charter that would also outline regulations for hateful and discriminatory speech. Campus should be a place where students can feel safe and valued regardless of their background.
Q. Do you have any advice for new students at UArizona?
My biggest pieces of advice would be to plan ahead and meet with your academic advisor. They are going to be the person throughout your entire college career who helps you determine your best path and makes sure that you're on track. I don't know what I would do without my academic advisor, Kristen Keipke. She's amazing.
My other advice is to take risks and step outside of your comfort zone. I know it can be really difficult to do that but I found that all the times that I've stepped out of my comfort zone or when I've taken a big opportunity presented to me, I've ended up loving it. So, take that leap, do the thing you wouldn’t imagine yourself doing, and be yourself!